10 questions for O's heading into spring training

Who will bat cleanup? Can Tejada play third?

February 16, 2010|By Dan Connolly | Baltimore Sun reporter

Orioles' pitchers and catchers start throwing baseballs in Sarasota, Fla., on Thursday morning. Tossing around the Orioles' burning issues for 2010 commences now.

There won't be a whole lot of position battles in camp this spring; 21 of the 25 roster spots are claimed, theoretically anyway, barring injuries or trades. There's a definite opening at backup catcher and three in the bullpen.

But there are plenty of questions surrounding this year's Orioles. Here are 10 of the most prominent, with an attempt at answering each.

Will Dave Trembley "drop the hammer?"

He says he will, but we'll see how tough he gets. In the minors, Trembley was known as a disciplinarian who restored order wherever he went. He discovered that's much more difficult in the majors. Disenchanted with the Orioles' lack of fundamentals and discipline, Trembley vowed last fall that he would "drop the hammer more" on his players in 2010.

It's an area in which he'll have to use a deft hand or things could turn ugly. They did for Sam Perlozzo, who tried to be a taskmaster in the midst of his managerial tenure, and players viewed it as an attempt to be something he wasn't. The veterans turned on Perlozzo, and he was canned midway through 2007. Orioles' players generally like Trembley, but that could change if he can't balance discipline and accountability with the respect the players feel they deserve.

How will the lineup shake out?

Brian Roberts leads off and Cesar Izturis bats ninth. The middle is subject to change. The club has enough flexibility that it should be able to stagger its lefties and righties effectively. It's a matter of finding the best combination. The biggest concern is the lack of a true cleanup hitter, someone who consistently puts up power numbers. Luke Scott (25 homers) was the only 2009 Oriole with more than 20 home runs, but a rough second half hurts his chances to bat fourth initially.

Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold could end up there eventually, but likely not in April. If newcomer Garrett Atkins has a strong spring and regains his power, he'd be the favorite at cleanup. If not, perhaps the best fit is Miguel Tejada, who homered just 14 times last season but is a proven run producer and has hit cleanup in 418 career games. He could bat behind Roberts, Jones and Nick Markakis with Wieters, Scott, Reimold and Atkins -- in some order -- coming after Tejada.

Can Tejada make a successful transition from shortstop to third base?

Yes, but not overnight. The consensus is that Tejada's arm, athletic ability and fearlessness will serve him well at the hot corner. But there will be an adjustment period -- Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. estimates it took him 100 games to feel comfortable going from short to third in 1997 -- so Tejada may struggle initially. His toughest adjustment likely will be reacting immediately to batted balls instead of being able to wait a little longer at shortstop.

Will Mike Gonzalez be able to handle the closer's role?

He should. He has the talent and experience. The Orioles haven't officially handed him the job, but his two-year, $12 million deal says otherwise. Gonzalez is 54-for-66 in save opportunities in his career, but he blew seven of 17 chances with the Atlanta Braves in 2009. If he stumbles, the club could look to Jim Johnson, who filled in as closer when George Sherrill was traded in July. But the Orioles would prefer to keep Johnson in the eighth-inning role in which he thrived in 2008. Is Kevin Millwood the top of the rotation, innings-eater the Orioles crave?

No and yes. If he stays healthy, he'll make 30 starts. But he's the ace by default. Still, his veteran presence allows the club's other four starters to be slotted more in line with their experience -- and that's important. In his past six seasons, Millwood has thrown 200 innings once. But last year he came close (198 2/3 innings) and he's made 29 or more starts in seven of his past eight seasons. He has been on four playoff teams, all in Atlanta, so he could dispense valuable advice to the youngsters if he chooses to.

What are the chances Atkins regains his power stroke?

Probably 50-50, but worth the risk of a one-year deal. Hitting coach Terry Crowley gets a reclamation project each spring. This time it's Atkins, who averaged 25 homers and 110 RBIs from 2006 to 2008 with the Colorado Rockies before a disastrous 2009 (.226 average, nine homers). Atkins, 30, was once one of the game's top young sluggers, but is now fighting for his future. His average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage are much higher at Coors Field than on the road, so he must prove he can succeed elsewhere.

Can Koji Uehara stay healthy and make the transition to the bullpen?

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